By Trevor Law
So Pope Francis visited Congress last week and gave a stern lecture on the immoralities of capitalism and liberals can’t stop crowing about how now Republicans have lost any moral high ground. I will admit, it has been nice to see the Pope talking about income inequality, and reminding the world (Christians in particular) we have a duty to help the poor, widows, and orphans and that millions of children in the United States and all over the world go to bed each night hungry. He as even gone so far as to say that churches should lose tax exempt status if they don’t help the less fortunate.
This is pretty stern stuff and while it has been in line with Catholic doctrine for a long time, it had been put on the back burner. In the US it has been a given that the Republican party is the “Christian” party with evangelicals making up its backbone by being a strong and influential wing. Yet, in America a strange kind of alliance has existed between capitalist and conservative Christians. It has promoted smaller government and a gutting of the welfare state, and in my view a very callous disregard for the poor. I say this as a Christian and as a Democrat, I love Pope Francis and I love that he is showing that caring about the poor has to be a core aspect of being a Christian.
Yet, every single time someone uses a saying of the Pope to attack Republicans for not really being Christians – I cringe. It is painful to me and frankly more than a little disrespectful to the Pope. It is one thing to use a statement of the Pope, and it is fine to contrast those statements against your political opponents, but it drifts into, “See! See! WE are the real Christians.” It was that attitude that drove me insane about the Christian right and turned me into a life long enemy of that movement. It is even worse when those very same people ignore the Pope’s statements on abortion and traditional marriage. To me it sounds less like “See we have Christian beliefs!” and more like “See! we cherry pick from the Bible too!”
You see, there is something people seem to forget about the Pope. He isn’t a politician, or for that matter a political guy. He is a Jesuit and took a vow of poverty. He spent a huge portion of his priesthood in the slums of Argentina. He doesn’t care about parties or Earthly power. He cares about helping people, calling people to the cross and spreading God’s word. If you are too, great! If you aren’t then sit down and he will try to change your mind. So when he sees the plight of the poor and the hungry and he sees a system that is doing nothing to help those people, well then he is going to criticize it, pure and simple. This is still a guy who is very much opposed to liberation theology and is far from a fan of communism. He simply thinks capitalism has some deep flaws and that they should be addressed.
That is the core of all of this. If you look at Pope Francis as someone who can help you win an argument about some political issue then you have missed the point entirely. He isn’t about that. He is about doing God’s work. He is about pointing out the injustices in the world wherever he sees them. Doesn’t matter if it’s liberals legalizing abortions, Conservatives ignoring the plight of the poor, or the Catholic church protecting pedophiles. He will call you out and he will do it as the kindly old priest he is. He is a reminder that all of us, being a liberal or a conservative falls short of the Kingdom of God. This is a man that asked Speaker Boehner to pray for him, much to the shock of the former speaker. He is someone who reminds us that if you pursue God, you are falling short on a daily basis, and you don’t have it all together and that there is something in your very soul and in the core of your beliefs that contradicts the Bible. The right has pushed back strongly against the idea that they COULD be wrong and that tells me all I needed to know. The left is picking and choosing what the Pope says and acting as if God is on their side now, and that tells me all I needed to know.
I am of the strong belief that more liberal economics are in line with the Bible, specifically with helping the poor and the sick. That taking a blanket from a man with two, and giving it to someone that has none is something to aspire to, and not deride as immoral. That being said, I am not going to say “Jesus was a socialist!” or, “Jesus was a liberal!” because the truth of it is, I would be shocked if he cared about such things. This is an ideology designed to fix earthly problems. The core problem to everything is you don’t have Jesus, everything else is humans trying to fix human problems. Are they important? Sure, but that doesn’t give you permission to put words in God’s mouth. I know plenty of Christians who embrace conservatism and that doesn’t make them any less of a Christian. I think they are wrong, but, Paul rebuked Peter. Peter, the guy Jesus said he would be the rock I build my church on, was wrong about church doctrine. If someone like that can be wrong imagine how screwed the rest of us are.
So if you are a Christian, then please, use the Bible to inform your beliefs, but be careful about accusing someone of not following the Bible, and if you aren’t a Christian, but use the Bible against a non-Christian, don’t be surprised when they roll their eyes at you. Cherry picking from the Bible is a time honored tradition by Christians and non-Christians, but if you are using it purely to prove a political point, then it makes you little better than the likes of Pat Robertson. Use the Bible to inform your beliefs and make an impassioned defense of those beliefs, but not as a blunt instrument to club those that disagree with you to death. That has never ended well, and that won’t change now.